by Jesse Sublett
There it is on the book cover, printed on the purple silhouette of an electric bass guitar: “A Martin Fender Mystery.” That seems pretty presumptuous, considering this is Sublett’s first book. Maybe it’s just optimism, like those awards shows that bill themselves as the First Annual Zip-pies or whatever.
At least the author has all his ducks lined up for the debut of Fender, rock and roll musician-skiptracer-novice detective. There’s a zaftig redhead, a stolen kilo of cocaine, a ticket-scalping scam, a shady land deal and lots of dead bodies. Most of the novel, though, is written as if it were intended to be an in-joke for residents of Austin, the Texas city where author Sublett lived until recently. You would have to be an Austin nightcrawler to appreciate all the references to local bands, people, clubs and settings.
It’s not surprising that, as a former musician himself, Sublett knows music. It’s also not surprising that, as a former musician, Sublett reserves his most corrosive prose for rock critics. Here is his hero, Fender, dressing down a pair of ink-stained wretches: “Two gentlemen who never pay to get in anywhere, get all their records free, sell the ones they don’t like to the record stores, then take it on themselves to decide what’s cool for the public and what isn’t? Two smug, self-inflated stooges?”
In this first outing, Fender is not a compelling hero, and Sublett’s writing tends to be listless. Maybe he will get better with practice. After all, there’s no shortage of reprehensible characters in the music business for him to pick off in subsequent books. (Viking Penguin, $16.95)